A Year After Revolution, Tensions Rising In Bahrain

Tensions are growing in the tiny Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain. Protests by Shiites in outlying areas are growing ahead of next week's anniversary of the uprising. There are daily clashes between protesters and police and some fear that the violence will escalate as the anniversary approaches on Feb. 14, perhaps spreading to the streets of the capital, Manama.

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Tuesday marks the first anniversary of a popular uprising in the Persian Gulf kingdom of Bahrain. Large street demonstrations calling for political and economic reform were crushed by Bahraini security forces.

NPR Peter Kenyon is in Manama, where he's finding mounting anxiety as the anniversary approaches.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Bahrain may be tiny but it has all the complexities of larger societies and no shortage of public demonstrations.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

KENYON: This rally was attended by pro-government members of Bahrain's Sunni Muslim minority. Mostly Shiite opposition groups have complained of discrimination for years. But unlike Syria or Libya's leaders, Bahrain's ruling family has not come in for strong U.S. criticism. The Al-Khalifa family remains a solid American ally and host to the Navy's Fifth Fleet. Banners at this rally, for instance, highlight a shared U.S.-Bahraini position, supporting protesters now under fire in Syria.

Nearby in one of Bahrain's many giant shopping malls, unease mingles with excess. A well-dressed expatriate with a British accent is on her cell phone in a coffee shop, apparently having an earnest conversation about property insurance. Are you sure, she says, that quote includes right coverage? Please check again.

Besides insurance companies, hotels near the airport seem to be doing well. Otherwise, the service and tourism sectors are suffering as visitors stay away. A European cruise company is skipping Bahrain on its next two sailings, citing the security situation. The local press features near daily articles about calls for government aid to tide businesses over.

At the U.S. Embassy, Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner urged all sides to refrain from violence, including young men in the streets who in recent weeks have begun attacking security forces with Molotov cocktails.

MICHAEL POSNER ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE: At the same time, we continue to receive credible reports of excessive force by police, including widespread and sometimes indiscriminate use of tear gas.

KENYON: Posner also commented on a pending U.S. arms sale to Bahrain, which is drawing criticism from lawmakers and human rights groups. Posner said some equipment is being approved while the rest is delayed to encourage reforms.

STATE: Several items, there's been a pause. And that pause is not indefinite. It really is too help encourage the successful completion of the BNCAIC recommendations and implementation.

KENYON: BNCAIC is the acronym for the independent commission which last fall released a lengthy report on the uprising. The report found a number of abuses by the authorities and recommended several security and political reforms. Critics say the government hasn't done nearly enough to implement them.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE AND CHEERING)

KENYON: At a recent opposition rally, Jalil Khalil, a former opposition MP who resigned to protest last year's crackdown, said if the government takes a hard line approach on next week's anniversary it will be a disaster. He added that the perception is growing that the United States doesn't care about Bahraini demonstrators as it does for those in Syria.

JALIL KHALIL: (unintelligible) is not acceptable, as well. Even people here, you know, always chanting where is the United States.

KENYON: There are signs cooler heads may prevail. The main opposition group today announced a march for next week but not to the Pearl Roundabout, scene of last year's mass gatherings and bloody crackdowns. Whether rank-and-file demonstrators will heed that request remains to be seen.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Bahrain.

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